Killer fast food: Does the Whopper make them do it?

On Tuesday, suspected cocaine dealer Jermaine Askia Cooper led police on a 90 mph chase through the streets of Decatur, Indiana. The pursuit ended not with an accident or an empty gas tank, but rather with a run for the border.

Jermaine, who told officers that he knew he was "going to jail for a while," decided that he wanted one last Taco Bell burrito before he went up the river. He was arrested in the restaurant's parking lot, and is being held without bond on a spate of charges, including selling cocaine and resisting arrest by fleeing.

For people who remember Tremayne Durham, this story seems eerily familiar. Last year, the 33-year old Durham was arrested by Oregon police in connection with the murder of Adam Calbreath. While police were building a case against him, he agreed to sign a full confession in return for fast food. The calorie-busting reward came in two waves, with the first including KFC chicken, Popeye's chicken, mashed potatoes, cole slaw, carrot cake, and ice cream. The second batch of junk food, which Durham received after sentencing, included calzones, lasagne, pizza, and ice cream.

Ironically, junk food wasn't just part of Durham's plea agreement; it was also part of his crime. The New York native, who was later nicknamed "the Fried Chicken killer," originally came to Oregon to purchase an ice cream truck. After paying the asking price of $18,000, he decided that he didn't want the truck. When the seller refused to given him a refund, Durham set out to kill him. Along the way, he met Calbreath and shot him in the head.

While Cooper and Durham may seem to be connected by no more than a tendency toward crime and an appreciation of fast food, they seem to point to a larger problem. As Walletpop has reported over the past year, junk food franchises are particularly popular in inner-city areas, where their inexpensive meals attract low-income consumers. Moreover, unlike many wealthier areas, poverty-ridden enclaves can't afford to fight off the deep penetration of fast food chains. In the case of South-Central LA, this has resulted in an obesity rate that is 10% higher than the average in the rest of LA county.

In a general way, fast food and criminality would seem to be linked by no more than the fact that both are endemic to inner city areas. However, some studies have found that fast food is addictive, and that excessive sugar consumption can have a negative effect on attention span and may possibly be related to hyperactivity. This suggests that, Twinkie defense aside, there may be a real connection between junk food and the kind of behaviors that land one in jail.

Regardless, when criminals are willing to trade their freedom for fried chicken and burritos, it's worth asking what, exactly, KFC and Taco Bell are putting in that stuff!
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